Skip to main content

Tourism & Hospitality

West Virginia University Extension Rural Tourism

WVU Extension Community Development experts are dedicated to providing educational programs and technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of citizens and organizations throughout the state of West Virginia. By utilizing the latest research-based knowledge, strategies and technology, we are capable of helping people understand community change and identify opportunities to improve their social and economic well-being.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism “takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, and environment and host communities.”

Community-based tourism is a visitor-host interaction that has meaningful participation by both and generates economic and conservation benefits for local communities and environments. The key rationale underlying the approach and objectives is that community-based tourism through increased intensities of participation can provide widespread economic and other benefits and decision-making power to communities. These economic benefits act as incentives for participants and the means to conserve the natural and cultural resources on which income generation depends.

The primary aim of participatory strategies is that local people become active subjects of the development effort rather than passive recipients. More specifically, the concept is related to the active involvement of local people in the choice, execution and evaluation of projects and programs designed to raise their living standards. This shift requires devolving political power from centralized systems to smaller units, the purpose being to relocate decision-making, empowering members of local communities and giving them ultimate control over the development process.

The WVU Extension Rural Tourism Lab provides research, planning, and training programs to support the development of a sustainable tourism economy in West Virginia. These programs focus on a participatory approach to community-based tourism development and are offered with the support of a transdisciplinary team of WVU faculty and students. Transdisciplinary partnerships improve upon interdisciplinary experiences by being immersed in the project at once and allowing partners to share assets rather than separately provide expertise. Transdisciplinary public interest research and design is an approach to design that allows the expertise of different disciplines to collaborate with communities to work through complex challenges. This long-term investment allows us to develop strong, trusting relationships with the communities involved.


Sustainable Rural Tourism Webinar Series

Through partnerships and collaboration, West Virginia University Extension has been working to build and enhance West Virginia tourism opportunities. Our Extension experts developed the Sustainable Rural Tourism webinar series to help West Virginians learn about sustainable rural tourism development using interactive and engaging discussions. Drawing from lessons learned and programs implemented during the past 10 years, these sessions are designed to illustrate basic principles and demonstrate how individuals can apply them collaboratively to further enhance the future of tourism in West Virginia.

The success of these integrated tourism projects that combine Extension and Academic faculty and students in partnership with local organizations has attracted the attention of prominent regional and national organizations including the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture Experiment Stations, the National Extension Tourism Design Team, and the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development allowing us to leverage external funding and extend our expertise to support sustainable tourism development in the region and country.

Mon Forest Towns

MonForest Towns logo

The Mon Forest Towns Partnership has cultivated relationships across the forest and between stakeholders in forest gateway communities. Planning, research, and capacity building activities have enhanced the economy and quality of life for residents and visitors, while sustaining the quality of the environment and society. Creating partnerships and a culture of working toward shared goals has increased the towns’ access to resources and fostered greater success; the resources, infrastructure, and the energy of local community groups has allowed for loftier goals to be actively pursued. This innovative partnership brings towns, agencies, CDFIs, regional planning & development councils, recreation advocates, and other regional experts to the table working collaboratively without duplicating or overlapping services. Since 2017 these partners have leveraged more than $8 million to support sustainable development within the region.

Sharing Tucker

Sharing Tucker logo, The Rural Tourism Design Team co-created branding, planning, and storytelling to share, protect and connect Tucker County, WV culture for visitors and residents.

In 2013, Tucker County citizens established the first county-wide Cultural District Authority in West Virginia. In 2015 The WVU Rural Tourism Design Team partnered with the Tucker Community Foundation and Tucker County Cultural District Authority to conduct research, planning, and design in support of the development of a cultural tourism performance agenda for Tucker County through funding support provided by the Benedum Foundation.

Current Grant Funded Projects

NE2251: Tourism Resilience and Community Sustainability: Adaptation and Recovery of Rural Businesses and Destinations Hatch Integrated Multistate Research Project approved and launched October 1, 2022 running through September 30, 2027.


  • Assess, inventory, and classify the impact of current and potential external shocks on rural tourism at the multi-state level.
  • Investigate the resilience, adaptability, and recoverability of different components of the rural tourism system (i.e., suppliers, buyers, and destinations).
  • Identify, implement, and evaluate strategies for tourism businesses and destinations to cope with external shocks.

We currently have 17 participants from 14 different universities. Twenty-four faculty members joined us in Milwaukee in September 2023 during the National Extension Tourism conference for our first annual meeting to discuss research interests and opportunities for collaborative projects.

Tourism, Resiliency, and Indicators for Post-Pandemic Planning USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture Integrated Multistate grant funded in 2022 for $648,285, This project is spearheaded by the country’s foremost tourism researchers and Extension tourism faculty from the National Extension Tourism Design Team (NETDT) with collaborators including Penn State, University of Vermont, University of New Hampshire, and the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development

Project team members bring a unique combination of research and analytical skills in addition to extensive industry experience supporting rural tourism destinations and providing innovative programs to guide sustainable management strategies with documented outcomes. With the addition of researchers from the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development (NERCRD) at Penn State University, our team includes expertise in econometric modeling, which will be applied to develop a rigorous understanding of the county-level determinants and impacts of tourism development over time.


  • Identify economic, social, and environmental indicators for sustainable tourism (across all US counties and in three case study communities).
  • Survey residents and visitors in case study destinations to identify social and environmental indicators.
  • Deliver Extension programming in targeted gateway communities through pilot programming using the research-based insights generated in objectives 1 and 2.
  • Assess change over time and associated impacts thus providing a mechanism to update the data on a regular basis to monitor changes and reflect on community goals.

ARC ARISE Rural Tourism Institute

This project seeks to develop and align resources and expertise in Appalachia’s Land-Grant Universities with strategic support provided by industry experts who will serve as neutral facilitators. Project partners include Extension and Academic faculty from West Virginia University, University of Kentucky, and North Carolina State University in addition to industry consultants and local partners. The Extension Service participants include tourism specialists that are regional representatives of the National Extension Tourism Design Team who will develop curriculum and deliver outreach and education. Academic research faculty partners will develop and implement research activities and methodologies. Local destination organizations will participate as active partners in training, research, and networking.

The Rural Tourism Institute will include three components; the Rural Tourism Academy, Rural Tourism Lab, and Rural Tourism Peer Network. The Rural Tourism Academy will develop the industry’s first Rural Tourism Executive Certification program that will train rural tourism industry leaders and Extension educators on the principles of sustainable destination management while guiding them through the process of establishing a strategic marketing plan and tourism master plan for their destination. Extension educators will better understand and define their role as a primary partner with destination organizations helping to develop and guide the destinations product development strategy and leveraging new partnerships to build a broader team that embraces the opportunities that tourism can bring to support sustainable community development.

The Rural Tourism Lab will be established in order to leverage land-grant university academic faculty and students to fill critical data and intelligence gaps and provide planning and research support necessary to help destination leaders understand the economic, social, and environmental impacts of tourism to make informed decisions to guide the development and implementation of a tourism master plan. Academic faculty at participating Universities with experience in rural economics, qualitative and quantitative data analysis, GIS applications, and asset-based community development will be engaged to develop the research and participatory planning methodologies. Rural tourism research needs identified by consultancy groups and in previous studies include background/destination assessment and analysis, tourism/recreation market analysis, competitive market area analysis, and resident sentiment toward tourism.

The Rural Tourism Peer Learning Network will be established to provide facilitated networking and information sharing among destination leaders eager to share best practices and lessons learned and support each other as they embrace the opportunities and challenges in shifting from a marketing to a management approach and learn from each other.


The Mountain Institute. (2000). Community Based Tourism for Conservation and Development: A Resource Kit. Accessed from the Mountain Institute.

Primary Team Members include:

Doug Arbogast Doug Arbogast.

Rural Tourism Specialist/Extension Professor
WVU Extension Service Community Resources and Economic Development

Responsible for developing and delivering rural tourism development services and in doing so works collaboratively with the team of Extension professionals and WVU faculty to promote sustainable development of tourism in West Virginia. Duties entail development of proactive applied research, teaching, and service programs in tourism development including destination management, destination competitiveness, and sustainable tourism.

Research Expertise

  • Sustainable Tourism
  • Destination Management
  • Participatory Planning

Daniel Eades Daniel Eades.

Extension Specialist/Asst. Professor in Rural Economics

WVU Extension Service Community Resources and Economic Development

Research Expertise

  • Community Data Analysis
  • Economic Impact Analysis
  • Rural and Community Economic Development

Peter Butler Peter Butler.

Director of Design and Community Development
Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture
Extension Specialist in Landscape Architecture

Peter is the Director of the Community Engagement Lab. Peter’s research interests include cultural landscape research and planning; community design process; industrial landscape reclamation and interpretation; and design studio pedagogy. His research projects include cultural landscape inventory, analysis and treatment; visualization; brownfields reclamation; land use planning; and participatory design methods.

Research Expertise

  • Cultural and Heritage Tourism
  • Participatory Design
  • Tourism Asset Mapping
  • Land Use Planning

Jacquelyn Strager

Teaching Professor WVU Davis College/WVU Extension Spatial Analyst

Jacquelyn Strager is a research coordinator with the Natural Resource Analysis Center, in the Davis College. She works on various applied research efforts, including site specific projects in West Virginia and more regional analyses across the Mid-Atlantic Highlands and beyond. Her project work focuses on natural resource, watershed, and environmental issues with a geo-spatial context, making use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and associated technologies.

Research Expertise

  • Spatial Analysis
  • Participatory GIS
  • ARC GIS Online Asset Mapping

Dr. Jinyang Deng

Professor of Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Resources

Dr. Deng is Professor in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Resources Program, School of Natural Resources, West Virginia University. Dr. Deng’s current research interests focus on quantitative assessments of ecotourism, tourism planning, rural tourism, and urban forests. He explores subjects such as environmental attitudes and behaviors among ecotourists, GIS applications in recreation and tourism, and stakeholders’ attitudes towards rural tourism

Research Expertise

  • Sustainable Tourism
  • Destination Management
  • Participatory Planning
  • GIS applications in sustainable tourism development

Other Programs

Voices of Change Sharing Tucker Tourism First Impressions Destination Competitiveness

Related Video

Timely Topics

aerial view of ravens rock and cheat river in west virginia

West Virginia’s Wild & Wonderful State Parks

The State of West Virginia is often regarded for its beauty. An excellent way to observe the diverse flora, fauna, waterfalls and breathtaking vistas is to visit one of West Virginia’s state parks, state forests or recreation areas.